“We cater to the people who want a melody as it was originally written. Our audiences want songs that tell a story. We don’t want any song with questionable moral standards.” LAWRENCE WELK
It was the beginning of the 50s and big bands were still around, but they were quickly being replaced with rock and roll groups and big names like Elvis Presley and Fats Domino. Still there was room for one more big band. The champagne music promised was melded into a bubbly display, turned on by a bubble making machine. He introduced many new entertainers. He spoke with a funny German accent. He played an accordion, which was so yesterday at that time. He played to an older group of adults and competed for the spotlight with American Bandstand – which was growing by leaps and bounds.
Lawrence Welk was born on this day in 1903 in the German speaking community of Strasburg, ND. He was the sixth child out of eight. They lived on a homestead, which is now a tourist attraction. He left fourth grade to work full time on the family farm. He decided early on that he wanted to make a career out of music and persuaded his father to buy an accordion for him. He promised to work the farm until he was twenty one to pay for it. In the 1920s he performed in many local bands and eventually started his own. In the 30s his band became popular for playing “sweet” music. The emphasis was placed on the melody of the music rather than jazzing it like other orchestras did.
The Lawrence Welk Show first appeared on television in 1951. The show became a local hit and was picked up by ABC in June of 1955. Jayne Walton Rosen became Welk’s first champagne lady. When ever a waltz or polka would be played, Welk would dance with the champagne lady.Lawrence was married for 61 years until his death to Fern Renner. They had three children and many grandchildren. He was known as a good businessman, investing in real estate and music publishing.
When he said, “turn on the bubble machine,” everyone knew that the mellow music he was famous for would soon fill the air waves. One of his favorite phrases was, “Wunnerful, wunnerful,” which he would bestow on each of his performing artists.
As with most people in the public eye, tragedy has a way of moving in. We like to think that someone like Welk didn’t have that problem, because of the wholesomeness of his show, but in 1964 a man named Chet Young began stalking the popular Lennon sisters. He was especially smitten with Peggy and believed he could marry her if he killed her father. He shot and killed William Lennon in a golf course parking lot in 1969.
Even in the midst of tragedy, the band played on. Welk was a man of many talents. He had a tremendous work ethic, was a talented musician, had strong moral fiber and was dedicated to presenting music as it should be.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LAWRENCE!